Chicago In Tune rounded out their month of celebrating music with three hours of blues at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
This year’s Chicago Blues Festival was a little different from previous years. The city of Chicago had a month-long celebration of music as part of Chicago In Tune, which spanned from August 19 – September 19. This saw performances across the city, throughout various neighborhoods and iconic venues. The celebration included four special evenings at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, each celebrating a different music genre – gospel, jazz, house, and blues.
The Chicago Blues Festival usually consists of a weekend jam-packed with a number of musicians across several different stages based in Millennium Park. Due to Covid-19, last year’s event was canceled and this year’s event was massively scaled back, with performances only taking place on one evening, on one stage at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
This year’s event was a special celebration marking the 50th anniversary of Alligator Records. The evening saw a number of Alligator Records’ artists take to the stage to perform, and also collaborate with other label-mates. As people began to take their seats in the pavilion and lay their picnic blankets out on the lawn, the Nick Moss Band took to the stage to begin the evening’s festivities.
The Nick Moss Band was joined on stage by Jason Ricci on harmonica. Moss joked with the audience in between songs as they got the growing crowd nicely warmed up for the evening ahead. He even apologized to those who might be offended by the song “Ugly Woman,” insisting that it was indeed a love song. The first of the evening’s collaborations saw Wayne Baker Brooks take to the stage, adding vocals and guitar to the performance as they honored his iconic father, Lonnie Baker Brooks.With the audience well and truly warmed up, it was time for the second group of the evening. Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials have impressively had the same lineup since the 80s, not something a lot of bands can say these days. They are a Chicago staple on the blues scene, and instantly recognizable with Ed’s distinguishing hats. You can’t help but be entertained as he flashes his smile, pulling funny faces to the crowd, and even falls to his knees as he lets rip with an incredible guitar solo.
For the second collaboration of the evening, Billy Branch joined them on the stage, armed with his trusty harmonica. If you’ve ever been to one of the previous Chicago Blue Festivals, you will undoubtedly have seen Branch perform as he is a regular at this event.The final band of the evening was the Cash Box Kings. Joe Nosek led proceedings as he did a balancing act between his crutches and trying to play his harmonica. They were then joined by vocalist Oscar Wilson who took over the main singing duties. Another familiar face to the Chicago Blues Festival was Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith who plays drums for the Cash Box Kings but has also performed at previous year’s events with his own band.
The Cash Box Kings were then joined with the third and final collaborator of the evening, Shemekia Copeland. Shemekia is also a familiar face for the blues festival crowd. She wowed the crowd with her powerful voice and even stepped in front of the microphones to show she could project her beautiful voice without the need for electronics. It was an impressive feat.
In true, blues fest style, the evening was rounded out by all the previous performers taking to the stage one last time as they all took turns singing a section of “Sweet Home Chicago.”Whilst this might have been a massively scaled-back affair compared to previous years, it’s understandable in the current climate and nice to see that we are still able to host some events like these. The Alligator Records performers all did Bruce Iglauer proud, and it felt like a true representation of Chicago blues with all the local artists who took part.